The art and science of project management has changed radically over the last twenty years. Projects of yesteryear, even large and complex ones, had some characteristics that made them easier to manage. They usually were stand-alone projects having dedicated resources, and many of them did not have the disastrous consequences of not meeting a rush-to-market window. For example, as late as 1970, the average length of time from operational concept to fielding a military airplane was between fifteen and twenty years. After being placed in service, these aircraft are operationally effective for between twenty and fifty years.
Many engineering and construction projects still are best managed in the traditional fashion. However, with the beginning of software development and the increasing numbers of other high-tech projects, the old tools and techniques were found to be less efficient, even counterproductive, if used in the traditional way. To exacerbate this problem, in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s, companies began to reengineer themselves to become more efficient with fewer resources, which was in response to an increasingly competitive marketplace. Consequently, the concept of dedicated project resources was no longer viable, requiring a different look at the organizational structure and operation. New approaches and techniques in managing complex, fast-paced, and ever-changing projects were needed, which brings us to the present.
The need for new and better techniques has grown faster than they can be developed or implemented. Nevertheless, companies are still attempting to manage high-tech projects using old tools and concepts. An understanding of the differences in the traditional approach to project management and what is now needed is crucial before a viable and successful IT project management process can be implemented. Understanding how IT projects differ from other project types helps define a process for successfully managing them.